James Alicie, left, and Richard M. Birchfield, of Delaware, Ohio, at President Trump’s rally there Aug. 4. (Jeremy Pelzer/Cleveland.com)
Columnist

The views of rank-and-file Republicans, captured in voter surveys, are nothing less than galling.

Let’s lead with a poll conducted by the global marketing firm Ipsos and reported by the Daily Beast. It found that 43 percent of self-identified Republicans said they believed “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.”

When asked if President Trump should shut down The Post, CNN and the New York Times, 23 percent of Republicans said yes.

These findings are obviously troubling to me as a member of the Fourth Estate. But in the Trump era, assaults on the media come with the territory.

More disturbing to me as a citizen is that those Trump cultists would knowingly and willingly give him the power to trample on the First Amendment, destroying an essential part of our democracy that he doesn’t like. That is appalling.

They either don’t know or care about what Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote in New York Times Co. v. United States in 1971: The Founding Fathers intended that “the press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”

Our home-grown destroyers of the First Amendment would have the United States join foes of press freedom around the globe. Places that the watchdog organization Freedom House has identified as:

North Korea, where domestic media outlets are “state controlled and closely monitored, and produce propaganda with the aim of ensuring absolute loyalty to Kim Jong-un.”

China, which “maintains control over news reporting via direct ownership, accreditation of journalists [and] harsh penalties for online criticism.”

Russia, which controls the main national news agenda, and where news “outlets operate with the understanding that the government has the means to close them at any time.”

The animus of some Trump supporters toward the opposition, and their embrace of America’s longtime foes, is astounding. A photograph in circulation shows two middle-age men at an Ohio Trump rally, one of them wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, and both in T-shirts with a message printed on the front that read “I’d rather be Russian than a Democrat.”

But don’t dismiss their behavior at the Ohio rally as a silly stunt by two grown men who should know better. The grass-roots Republican affection for Russia, because of Trump’s own affinity for the Kremlin, is more widely shared than you may think.

Get this: In a Yahoo Finance-SurveyMonkey poll conducted from July 25 to 27, 11 percent of the Republicans surveyed said it would be “appropriate” for Russia to interfere in the midterm elections if it helped their party keep control of Congress, and 29 percent said it would not be “a big deal.” Yes, a majority of Republicans (55 percent) opposed the idea. But the fact that 40 percent of Republicans would be okay with Russian interference in a U.S. election if it helped their side speaks to a lack of allegiance to our democratic institutions.

Here’s another scary story. Nearly a quarter of Republicans (22 percent) believe Trump tells the truth only “some of the time or less,” but more than half of that group still approves of the job he’s doing as president, according to an NBC News-SurveyMonkey online poll. They seem to believe that Trump can do no wrong, even though they know he’s likely lying to them.

Case in point: Trump tells the nation that his handling of the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was a great success. GOP leadership and 55 percent of Americans didn’t think so. But because Trump spoke those words, 71 percent of Republicans approved of his behavior, according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll. Want more? While most Americans (59 percent) accepted the intelligence community’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign to help Trump, only 32 percent of Republicans agreed.

The contrast couldn’t be greater. When it comes down to support for blocking news outlets, blessing the sucking up to foreign adversaries, and accepting outrageous and brazen lying by a president, Trump supporters have the field all to themselves. Their view: He has the throne; the rest must obey.

And that is where our democracy faces its challenge. Election Day in November is the decision point. It offers the moment to reaffirm support for fundamental freedoms and integrity in government. The choice will be there in print. The Republican’s name on the ballot in your district may be different, but it is, de facto, Donald Trump. You know where his base stands. Where stand you?

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